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How Craft Became Cool

Once folksy, now cool, craft fuses heritage skill with cutting-edge art and design. Ahead of the 15th edition of the Crafts Council’s Collect international art fair in February, we look at this burgeoning creative sector.

Craft is having a moment, as they say. What might once have been thought of as a folksy hobby is now big business, firmly integrated with high-end contemporary art and design.

According to the UK Crafts Council, there are now more than 11,000 craft businesses in the UK, with around 43,000 employees, contributing an impressive £3.4bn to the British economy each year. And the industry’s big hitters can see their artworks regularly fetch tens of thousands: Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry’s Triumph of Innocence earthenware urn went for £85,250 at Christie’s in 2012, for example. Other award-winning notables in the UK include textile artist Alice Kettle, porcelain installation artist Edmund de Waal and potter Julian Stair.

Heike Brachlow Aqua

Heike Brachlow’s Aqua.

More generally, craft is enjoying a resurgence in popularity from gallery to high street to online. Following in Etsy’s footsteps, Folksy.com describes itself as ‘the home of British craft’, selling homemade greeting cards, jewellery and homeware. Elsewhere, the BBC has gotten in on the act with BBC2’s The Great Pottery Throw Down, which pitched itself as pottery’s answer to The Great British Bake Off.

The search for authenticity

All this might be seen as a reaction to generic, mass-market products, and a preference for authenticity and quality – things that last. Branding plays a part, but the movement has very real roots in a rejection of mass production, and a reaction to a digitally driven world.

“Our lives are increasingly virtual,” says Annie Warburton, the Crafts Council’s creative director. “The return to making and working with our hands is, in part, a reaction to that. There’s also an increased awareness of provenance. People are aware of the ethics of where things come from and how they are produced. Then there is the sense of well-being that comes with making things yourself.”

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One of Matthew Chambers’ concentrically layered sculptures

Museum-quality craft

The Crafts Council is behind Collect, the leading international art fair for modern craft and design, which returns to the Saatchi Gallery in London between 28 February and 3 March 2019. Now in its 15th year, it is instrumental in bringing museum-quality objects to the market.

Around 400 artists working across four continents, including from as far afield as South Korea, will participate in this stunning showcase, with many creating pieces specifically for the event. While some works start around the £200 mark, serious investors and collectors could expect to spend up to £150,000.

“People are aware of the ethics of where things come from and how they are produced. Then there is the sense of well-being that comes with making things yourself.”

Galleries making their debut this year include the China Design Centre and US-based Todd Merrill. The Netherlands’ Galerie Marzee, the world’s largest gallery for modern art jewellery, will be returning alongside 15 craft-led installations and a three-day programme of talks and events.

Artists to watch

This year’s trends are lacquer, along with mixed materials such as cork and plastic. Textiles are also much in vogue at the moment – and highly collectible. Here are five artists to look out for at Collect 2019:

Matthew Chambers

Presented by Cavaliero Finn

Award-winning ceramicist and sculptor Matthew Chambers makes beautiful, geometric sculptures and vessels from earthenware or stoneware clay. Influenced by Bridget Riley, Barbara Hepworth and Mondrian’s structural paintings, his circular, mathematically constructed pieces express his interest in abstraction and constructivism.

Kimiaki Kageyama

Presented by Gallery S O

The Japanese artist Kimiaki Kageyama began making jewellery at university and held his first solo jewellery exhibition in 1993. He uses lacquer fragments to convey a sense of timelessness in his work. “Jewellery is three-dimensional and interacts with the complex shape of the human body, so you need to consider how the piece will blend with the wearer,” he says. “I think this aspect makes jewellery interesting.”

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Kimiaki Kageyama’s Stone of Kamo River ring

Heike Brachlow

Presented by Bullseye Projects

The Munich-born artist, who works in glass and lectures at the Royal College of Art, creates gorgeous, colourful, precariously balanced sculptures (representing “precariousness, stability, equilibrium, imbalance”, she writes, with “the potential for chaos”) invite a tactile interaction on the part of the viewer.

Gareth Neal

Presented by Sarah Myerscough Gallery

Working out of East London, Gareth Neal is a critically acclaimed artist who combines digital know-how with professional craftsmanship to produce unique, contemporary furniture such as chairs and cabinets that stand at the apex of art, craft and design, evading easy categorisation. At Collect 2019, expect to see his new Hack Chair – a scorched-oak piece referencing Georgian furniture.

Charlotte Mary Pack

Charlotte Mary Pack’s contemporary clay works – incredibly detailed miniature animal forms sitting atop teapots, vases and other vessels – are informed by her dedication to raising awareness about endangered species, and the continued destruction of their natural environment. At Collect 2019, the artist will exhibit 100 elephants, all formed during a 24-hour period on Wildlife Conservation Day, in a narrowing spiral.

See more: Annie Warburton from the Crafts Council on how makers stimulate innovation in other industries

Lysanne Currie writes about business and luxury travel for magazines including Robb Report, Luxury Plus, Glass Magazine and Meet The Leader.